The Pain is Real
Surviving trauma causes real and significant changes to your mind, body, and soul. If you were physically injured during your trauma(s), then you are fully aware of how the pain you experience is very real. When you have these injuries, the expectation that you will feel pain is accepted by everyone. But what happens when you escape your trauma without physically visible injuries? The same thing that happens when you have physical injuries. Adult trauma, chronic stress and childhood trauma, causes systemic changes within the body. The resulting cortisol and hormonal imbalances and systemic inflammation (which can penetrate the barrier between the brain and the rest of the bodies blood), when left untreated, will cause physical symptoms and damage to your body. This can lead to cardiovascular problems, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and obesity, for example.
Survivors of trauma with invisible wounds, already know that their pain is not just emotional. Ask anyone who has survived, what happened in their bodies after the event, and almost every one of us will tell you that it caused physical pain. Have you ever had that feeling where you were grieving something so deeply that it physically hurt to breathe? Where you could feel the pain of the grief as you were bent over sobbing? Then you have experienced this reality. But ask almost any medical or health professional what happens to “uninjured” survivors, and they will give a very different answer. Research has now begun to show, however, that toxic and chronic stress, childhood and adult trauma, increase the chances of developing an autoimmune disorder and other physical disorders. Research has yet to find a causal relationship between trauma, PTSD, etc. and autoimmune disorders, but I believe that its only just a matter of time.
Soon after surviving the Columbine Massacre, I noticed the widespread pain, fatigue, confusion, dizziness, and many other physical symptoms. For years, I tried to find answers and help from medical and mental health professionals. They told me repeatedly that it’s “all in my head,” and I realized that I was going to have to figure out what was wrong on my own. That began my quest for answers and healing that led me to the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, sleep, cognitive, and mood dysregulation. I finally had a name, but not many people 20 years ago accepted fibromyalgia as a legitimate disorder. Even fewer had any idea, beyond narcotics and antidepressants, on how to treat it. Fibromyalgia, like other autoimmune disorders, have no cure. The only option for relief, is effective and life-long treatment.
Why Does it Hurt?
You will feel physical pain and emotional pain in similar ways within the body. This is because the same region and pathways in the brain that respond to physical pain, also respond to emotional pain (trauma). Interestingly, this same study showed a lessening of emotional pain when using Tylenol in response to the physical pain. This is just one of the current ways of understanding the way trauma causes physical pain. When the fight or flight system activates, a flood of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline courses through your body. The rush of chemicals propels your body to respond to the threat in whatever way is needed. Normally, these hormones return to the levels they were before the event. In those who develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and those in chronic trauma and toxic stress situations, this doesn’t happen. Instead, your body is continually flooded with these hormones, causing a toxic internal environment as well. This chronic overexposure leads to physiological changes (such as structural and functional changes in your brain) and systemic inflammation.
Our minds, bodies, and souls are intimately connected. They are inseparable. When trauma and injury occurs in one, all are affected. Because every single cell in our bodies is connected to each other and the nervous system, we can and will physically feel psychological pain, eventually. When you break a bone, you know where it is and the pain is immediately recognized as coming from that body part. With emotional pain, many times the physical pain is in the same area where your body was unable to discharge the trauma energy. For example, if you wanted to fight back but your body made you freeze or comply instead, you may experience physical pain in your muscles from not being able to fight. If you wanted to scream but were unable to, you may experience issues with your throat, vocal cords, and lungs.
If we are willing to accept that everything is connected to each other, maybe we can begin to better understand the pain we have that seems unexplainable. In fact, this is a critical component to healing from trauma. Experiencing the event in your body, emotions, and soul, lets you get rid of the toxic energy, hormones, etc. that are being stored in your body. In essence, you have to feel it to heal it.
Why “Normal” Doesn’t Always Work
When we experience physical pain or physical symptoms, often the first thing we do is go to a medical doctor for help. Many times this is beneficial to rule out any serious concerns and, if possible, to get a diagnosis and make the unknown, known. Things become frustrating when you begin to treat the physical issue and you find that what is prescribed doesn’t really work. Medical doctors typically give medications to treat an ailment. While medications can be extremely beneficial in beginning the healing process, they do not address the underlying reason for the pain. Most western medical professionals do not acknowledge the interconnectedness of our mind, body, and souls, and therefore fail to see a reason to look beyond treating the symptoms.
If you want true and complete healing, you have to look beyond the symptoms and attack the root. When we focus on “getting rid” of a symptom that is disrupting our lives and causing pain, we miss the opportunity to heal the reason for them and to achieve freedom from the symptoms. I have found that rarely do medications work to fully treat the symptoms of stuck trauma being expressed in your body. Often the medications work to numb you out rather than stop the symptoms. If you are told there’s “no medical reason” for your symptoms, if you are “treatment resistant” to traditional methods of healing, you are likely fighting against unhealed trauma. Unhealed trauma does not go away on its own. You will continue to suffer until you heal that root of trauma in your life.
While you are on your journey to heal and repair the damage done by the trauma you survived, there are many things you can do to address your physical pain as well. I have found that a combination of “traditional” and alternative medicine works the best. There are times when the pain is so bad, or the symptoms so dangerous, that medicine is necessary. But I also know that treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture, biofeedback, brainspotting, prayer, and Godly energy work (such as Splankna), are powerful in helping your mind, body, and soul heal. In fact, these are the treatments that have provided the most relief from pain in my life.
Regardless of where in your body your unhealed trauma is manifesting, it’s important to realize that its unhealed trauma, not necessarily a purely physical problem. By all means, seek relief from the physical pain and other physical dysfunctions. That is an incredibly healthy decision to begin your healing journey. But don’t stop there. Many people are content with some relief from the physical symptoms and never give themselves the chance to fully heal. Choose true freedom over temporary relief. The process of true freedom is harder than temporary relief, but it is permanent freedom. True freedom is better than simply medicating away the problem. Choose a life healed and whole and step into who you can be, instead of who your trauma wants you to be.